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There’s something difficult, but good in what Jesus says and does this morning. There’s something that’s hard to swallow, hard to accept, hard to embrace. But at the same time, it’s really, really good. It’s kind of like when a friend tells you the truth about yourself that you really don’t want to hear, but once you come to terms with it, you realize how good it was that your friend told you. There’s something difficult but good in what Jesus says and does.
Let’s start with what Jesus does. Here’s what’s hard about it: Just when everything starts to work out for Jesus, he embraces his death. Just when Jesus starts to look like a winner, he throws it all away and instead goes the way of a loser.
When Jesus entered Jerusalem, he finally got the glory he deserved. Up to this point, Jesus had made a paralyzed man walk, he had given sight to the blind, and he had fed five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fish. But whenever Jesus would perform a sign, people would wonder about him, and question him, and even argue with him that he couldn’t possibly be the Christ. But when he entered Jerusalem on a donkey, Jesus finally got the glory he deserved. Just one week before, Jesus called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead. And the people who saw it with their own eyes told the crowds in Jerusalem, and they all came to welcome Jesus as the Christ, the king who comes in the name of the Lord. Even the Pharisees, who had been his constant enemies, seemed to throw in the towel: “Look, the world has gone after him.”
But just when Jesus finally starts to get the glory he deserves, he turns away from it and embraces his death. Just when Jesus starts to look like a winner, he throws it all away and instead goes the way of a loser.
A moment after the crowd finally gave Jesus the glory he deserved, some Greeks ask to see Jesus. And suddenly Jesus knows that now the time has come for him to die. “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies it bears much fruit.” Suddenly he knows that now is the time for him to be arrested by the people who hate him, beaten and mocked by his enemies, hung on a cross as a common criminal, and die. Rather than be praised by the people, he will be mocked by them. Rather than be welcomed as their king, he will be rejected as an impostor. Rather than be lifted on a pedestal as a winner before the people, he will be hung on a cross as a loser.
And what’s stunning is that Jesus embraces it. Even though the thought of it all strikes him to the core, he welcomes it, and he revels in it. “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say, ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.”
Here’s what’s hard about what Jesus does: Just when Jesus starts to look like a winner, he throws it all away and goes the way of a loser instead.
But here’s what’s good: Jesus didn’t come to earn the world’s praise and honor. Jesus didn’t come to be lifted on a pedestal and to prove to others that he’s a winner. Jesus came to serve. “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies it bears much fruit.” Or, as he said before, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.” Jesus didn’t come to win the world’s praise for himself. He came to pour out his life for his sheep.
And then, equally as a difficult, is what Jesus says. “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”
Here’s what’s hard about what Jesus says: There’s so much that’s good in this world. Take our family for example. Our children, our parents, our spouse, they truly are God’s good gifts to us. They’re the people God has given us to love and to be loved by in return.
Or take our friends as another example. A good friend is someone you can confide in and trust; someone you can be yourself around and you don’t have to worry about that person looking down their nose at you or being repulsed by you. Your friends give you a place in the world, somewhere you fit.
Or take our jobs as another example. Our jobs can wear us down and frustrate us, but they give us somewhere to use our skills, they give us something to do, and somewhere to be useful. And they reward us with pay and with respect and accomplishment.
Or take our stuff—yes, even our stuff can be really good. There’s something about having a nice car that runs well, that you don’t have to worry about breaking down, that’s comfortable and fun to drive. Or again, it’s nice to have an iPhone that plays the music you love wherever you go and takes incredible pictures.
There’s so much good in this world. And yet Jesus crushes it all when he says, “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”
But here’s what’s good about what Jesus says: The things of this world, even the best things like our family, our friends, our job, and our stuff, those things are good gifts, but they are terrible gods. When Martin Luther explains the First Commandment—You shall have no other gods—he says that your god is whatever you look to for all good in life; whatever it is that you turn to in time of need; whatever it is that when you have it, you feel like you’ve got all you really need. The things of this world, even the best things, are good gifts, but they are terrible gods. They’re terrible gods because they will always let you down in the end!
One day your children will grow up and think that hugging their parents just isn’t cool. And even worse, they’ll grow up and leave the house and your time to have them will come to an end. Our parents and our husband or wife won’t live forever. One day they will die. And if they are the ones we look to for all good in life, if they’re the place where we seek our security and find our rest, then we’ll be left empty.
Our friends move away, they change in ways we can’t control, and they too one day die. Our jobs come and our jobs go. And while they might sustain us for a time, they always come to an end. Our stuff gets old, and breaks down; it loses its luster after a while. And if these are what we look to for all good in life, if they’re the place where we seek our security and find our rest, then we will be left empty.
But in Jesus, you have something that no moth can destroy and no thief can break in and steal. In Jesus you have the one who laid aside the glory that was due him so that he could give himself completely for you and to you, going ahead of you into death, so that neither life, nor death, nor pain, nor suffering, nor poverty or decay, nor hardship or struggle, nor anything else in all of creation can separate you from the love of God. In Jesus, you have a true God—a God who will never leave you or forsake you. And while even the best things of this world will finally let you down, finally leave you empty and with nothing, you have the Lord Jesus Christ. On Palm Sunday, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey to give himself for you. And in your baptism, Jesus gave himself to you. There at the font, Jesus bound himself to you, with all that he came to bring: forgiveness, righteousness, everlasting life, and salvation. In that splash of water, Jesus pledged himself to you, promising that his life is your life. He promised you that he will raise you from the dead to a life that cannot be taken away. In Jesus, you have the steadfast love and faithfulness of God; a love and faithfulness that embraces the cross and pushes all the way through suffering and death for you. That is the good news of Palm Sunday; that is the really good news that is yours in Christ Jesus.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.
12 The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” 14 And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written,
15 “Fear not, daughter of Zion;
behold, your king is coming,
sitting on a donkey’s colt!”
16 His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him. 17 The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. 18 The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. 19 So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.”
20 Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. 21 So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.
27 “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die. 34 So the crowd answered him, “We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” 35 So Jesus said to them, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. 36 While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.”
When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them. 37 Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, 38 so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
“Lord, who has believed what he heard from us,
and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”
39 Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said,
40 “He has blinded their eyes
and hardened their heart,
lest they see with their eyes,
and understand with their heart, and turn,
and I would heal them.”
41 Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him. 42 Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.